Dialectical Materialism

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Sat Jul 26 18:44:36 MDT 2003

On Sun, 27 Jul 2003 01:47:21 +0200 "Jurriaan Bendien"
<bendien at tomaatnet.nl> writes:
> Richard,
> As far as I know, the term dialectical materialism was invented by
> Karl
> Kautsky, who was interested in getting Marxism down to an easily
> understood
> doctrine that workers could understand, even if their education was
> at a low
> level and they were under religious influence, i.e. Kautsky felt the
> need to
> popularise and project a world view, a systematic ideology, a
> catechism, for
> the German social democracy and the Second Intenational.

As far as I can tell the term "dialectical materialism" was first
coined by the German worker Josef Dietzgen, who had independently
arrived at political and philosophical views that were akin
to those of Marx and Engels.  Plekhanov is usually credited
as having been responsible for popularizing the term
around 1890 as a designation for the philosophical
outlook that was attributed to Marx and Engels.  However,
Kautsky certainly played a very important role in promoting
this popularization along with Plekhanov within the
Second International.  In any case, dialectical materialism
as presented by both Kautsky and Plekhanov drew
heavily upon the writings of Engels,  partlcularly
works like * Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical
German Philosophy*, *Anti-Durhing*, *Socialism: Utopian
and Scientific*.

Jim F.

> Because Kautsky was friends with Engels, I think that Engels might
> have used
> the term on an occasion. However I cannot trace any locus, and doubt
> that
> there is any. What Engels does do, is talk about the "materialist
> dialectic"
> (e.g. Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy)
> but this
> is not a reference to a systematic philosophical doctrine about how
> the
> world out there is really structured ontologically, or a system of
> logic,
> but rather the suggestion is that we can discover dialectical
> relationships
> in living reality, through inquiry, i.e. prove that reality indeed
> has these
> dialectical properties, by understanding things as complex
> developing
> processes occurring in an historical context, which exhibit
> dialectical
> patterns.
> When Marx talks about "developing a science to the point where it
> can be
> dialectically represented", he means just that, first you have to do
> the
> scientific work, then you discover the dialectical relationships in
> the
> subjectmatter, and then you are able to present your findings in a
> dialectical way. Engels's intention was to do something similar for
> natural
> science, but of course there is a big difference between classical
> political
> economy and natural science. After Ricardo, classical political
> economy made
> no further substantive theoretical advances, except in Marx's own
> work. The
> connection between labour, economic value and price was mostly
> abandoned and
> later denied. Engels knew very well that natural science continued
> to
> develop, and that views about the structure of physical reality were
> still
> changing, in a way quite different from an historically informed
> specification of the basic institutional structure of capitalism.
> Which is
> probably why he never published on the subject of natural science,
> beyond
> claims that one could discover dialectical characteristics in
> physical
> reality, if one was prepared to look for them. But that is quite a
> different
> thing from a metaphysical doctrine which seeks to assimilate
> scientific
> findings into one system.
> My own contribution to the debate about dialectics, was just to say
> that
> "formal-logical operations" and formal inferential processes
> generally
> assume categorisations, and that categorisation processes (the
> processes by
> which we obtain categories, conceptual distinctions) might be
> construed as
> dialectical processes at some level, which in good part evade
> formal-logical
> inferential processes and rather arise out of practical-experiential
> human
> activity and conceptual metaphors, generated by the brain through
> the
> combination of language, symbolisms, metaphysical notions, and human
> practical experience within society. This idea was, to my knowledge,
> first
> elaborated explicitly and systematically, in a popularised way, by
> Paul
> Lafargue, in an essay with the remarkable title "The Origin of
> Abstract
> Ideas" (reprinted in The Evolution of Property from Savagery to
> Civilisation
> & Social and Philosophical Studies, New Park Pubns, 1975). Behind a
> conceptual distinction, we may be able to discover a social practice
> or
> etymology which gives rise to it, but not a formal proof of its
> validity.
> I found e.g. that in designing statistical classication procedures
> for the
> purpose of data aggregation and presentation, I was forced to make
> "leaps in
> logic" and move between different levels of analysis, in a way which
> could
> not be captured in any formal logical terms, because they creatively
> combined logical with non-logical operations, i.e. logical
> inferences with
> experiential considerations, theory, and utility considerations. I
> might
> draw a non-arbitrary, reasoned conceptual distinction for practical
> purposes, without however there being any formal proof for its
> validity.
> If indeed thought, and reality as a whole, could be logically
> formalised
> totally (a phantasm), then we would have solved the classical
> dichotomy of
> empiricism and rationalism, expressed best by Immanuel Kant, and we
> could
> just infer the way reality really is from a deductive process
> starting at an
> appropriate point. No empirical investigation would be necessary, we
> would
> just reason ourselves into new knowledge from an initial premiss.
> But this
> is not the case, because there is an ontological discrepancy between
> external reality, our sensory experience of external reality, and
> the mental
> "filters" we use to categorise it, impute signification, and place
> it in a
> comprehensible frame of reference, within which logical reasoning
> can take
> place.
> Jurriaan

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